My name is Lisa Briggs. I am a wife to my loving husband Kirk, and busy mother of two beautiful children, Jasmine and AJ. My professional background is an Osteopath and Exercise Physiologist, for which I owned a Sports Medicine business.
On 28 November 2014, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at 32 years of age. At the time, my daughter was three years old and my son was only a baby, four months old. Having always led an active lifestyle, never smoked a cigarette in my life and working in allied health, the diagnosis definitely came as a massive shock.
The day I was diagnosed was the day the disease nearly claimed my life.
It started when I was pregnant, and had difficulties breathing. Initially, I was prescribed asthma inhalers, but after multiple visits to my GP and minimal relief from the inhaler, at 38 weeks gestation I was referred for a chest X-ray. The results were all clear, and I was told there was a simple solution; once I have the baby my symptoms would disappear.
The initial period after giving birth was really difficult, as I was trying to juggle an unsettled newborn, a toddler craving attention as well as continuing to manage my business. Naturally, I blamed my fatigue and difficulty breathing on the hectic lifestyle. However as my symptoms continued, I just knew something was ‘not quite right’ and within a short space of time, my situation became a lot more complex.
I remember sitting at home watching my daughter play with her baby brother, I was exhausted and gasping for air with each breath as well as feeling a stabbing pain in the right side of my rib cage, so I made another appointment with my GP.
As I was getting my children into the car for that appointment, I coughed up blood.
My GP sent me straight to hospital where some basic tests were performed (Chest X-ray and Blood tests) and I was sent home, this time misdiagnosed with bronchitis. I continued to cough up blood for three days continuously. As a result, a CT scan (promptly requested by my GP) followed by a bronchoscopy (camera into my lungs and tissue sample), finally confirmed the real reason for my symptoms – a tumour in my right lung which was wrapped around my pulmonary artery (the main artery that exits your heart and supplies your lungs). By this stage, I needed emergency surgery (embolisation) to stop the bleeding in my lungs and I was told there was no guarantee this would be successful. Thankfully, it was!
Whilst I was lucky to have survived, further tests and examination in hospital soon after revealed the lung cancer had already spread to eight different locations in my body, and it was then I was told there was no cure.
Initially I felt numb and then the emotions began to snowball. The panic set in followed by feelings of helplessness, fear and confusion all rolled into one. My life as I once knew it was totally falling apart and the fear was overwhelming! I was scared for Kirk and my children.
My son Alastair was still a baby at only four months old and relied so heavily on me. He was forced to stop breastfeeding immediately (as I was admitted into hospital) and my contact with him was minimal for a two week period; his security blanket was completely ripped away. My daughter, Jasmine, was three years old and at an important age of development both mentally and emotionally. I was the one she looked up to, yet I was physically vulnerable. All I kept thinking was my children growing up without a mum and missing all the important milestones most mothers want to see. I asked myself questions like, “How will they cope?” “How is Kirk supposed to be a mum and a dad to these kids and work full time?” “Will they even remember who I am?”
Having to tell family and friends about my diagnosis was really hard emotionally, as I feared it would fracture the family, compounding the problem.
My treatment journey began in January 2015, where I started on a clinical trial of a new targeted therapy. In the first six weeks all my tumours reduced by greater than 50 per cent. In three months I had a clear PET scan, indicating there was no active cancer in my body. The cancer in my bones had healed, lymph nodes returned to normal size and blood was flowing back through my pulmonary artery again. However, after 3 years (on 23 Dec 2017), 6 small brain tumours were detected on a routine MRI without any symptoms. Thankfully, I was able to change to a more effective treatment which has not only helped clear up these tumours but also maintain no evidence of disease in my body. I have continued on this treatment ever since.
The impact living with cancer has on our mind and emotions is huge.
For the first six months after being diagnosed, I worked intensely on empowering my mind through a positive mental training program. It involved some hypnosis, deep relaxation, visualizations, challenging my beliefs, eliminating my fears and re-balancing my mind. It really helped to provide me with the foundations towards managing the unpredictability a lung cancer diagnosis can bring. As a result of this experience, (which helped transform me personally), I have co-written a book called ‘Conquering Cancer. Develop your WILL to LIVE’. Writing this book has not only helped me to heal emotionally, but has also become a useful tool for others in similar situations. The overall goal of the book is to help empower other lung cancer patients to find better ways of managing their mind and therefore emotions, in order to help keep them on track.
The cancer journey is ongoing, and for that reason I have committed to fully focusing on what my mind and body needs. I made a personal decision to sell my business to help free up some time so that I can spend more quality time with my family and friends, go away on holidays with them and live a relatively normal life. I toned down my exercise intensity, trading in the running, weights and netball for regular yoga, and walking. I see a Chinese medicine practitioner for acupuncture regularly, and eat a well-balanced diet. I also visualise, meditate and connect spiritually each day. But as we know, life isn’t as simple or structured and each day brings with it new challenges, so I make sure I am flexible and open to changes in my routine. I have made a promise to myself that no matter what, I will focus purely on the things I can control, and let the rest of life work itself out the way it is meant to.
I am so incredibly grateful for each day I have, and feel more alive with each opportunity I get to experience together with my children and husband. I set myself both short and long term goals every 6 months and spend time each day visualising myself at 80 years of age, holidaying in our caravan and watching the grandchildren play… I never count myself out! I have so much to live for, as I am reminded by my daughter who regularly runs into my room and says “Mum, mum the sun’s up”. My thoughts are…That’s right, the sun is up, and I’m alive. I’m here to live my life to the fullest, I hope you are too!